How Well Do Product Labels Indicate the Presence of PFAS in Consumer Items Used by Children and Adolescents?

By Kathryn M Rodgers, Christopher H Swartz, James Occhialini, Philip Bassignani, Michelle McCurdy, and Laurel A Schaider
Environ Sci Technol
May 10, 2022
DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.1c05175

PFAS are persistent and toxic chemicals used in many commercial and industrial applications that are often added to consumer products, including those used by children and adolescents, to impart water and stain resistance. Since product labels rarely list chemical additives, including PFAS, we evaluated whether other information on product labels can be used by consumers to select products without PFAS. We selected 93 items marketed to or often used by children and adolescents across three product types (furnishings, apparel, bedding) and five labeling groups representing different combinations of water and/or stain resistance and "green" (including "nontoxic") assurances. We screened all products for total fluorine (F) and analyzed solvent extracts from a subset ( = 61) for 36 targeted PFAS and from a smaller subset ( = 30) for perfluoroalkyl acids (PFAAs) generated by precursor oxidation using the total oxidizable precursor (TOP) assay. Products advertised as water- and/or stain-resistant had more frequent detections and higher concentrations of total F than those without such claims, and targeted PFAS were detected only in products labeled as water- and/or stain-resistant. Concentrations of PFAAs generated by precursor oxidation using the TOP assay often exceeded pre-oxidation concentrations, suggesting that PFAA precursors contribute to solvent-extractable PFAS from products. Among products advertised as water- and/or stain-resistant, detection frequencies and concentrations of targeted PFAS were similar regardless of green assurances. This study illustrates many nonessential uses of PFAS in products used by children and adolescents and suggests that while water- and stain-resistant assurances can identify products likely to contain PFAS, current green assurances do not consistently indicate the absence of PFAS.

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